If you go to a theatre this summer you’ll find that everyone has become a superhero. Adam Sandler has become the Zohan, Will Smith is Hancock, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man, and Christian Bale returns as The Dark Knight. What happened to all the regular folks and the everyday struggle of the human condition? Film-making is about the fantastic and the imaginative possibilities. It is refreshing, however, to enter a story about being responsible in what often seems like the simple things.
This summer it might take a robot; and a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class (WALL-E) at that, to really illuminate what makes us human and what a delight it can be. It’s 2810 and the earth has been devoid of human life for 700 years. Humans have consumed every last particle on earth and moved on to outer space as the final frontier to human consumption. While human life has survived on an intergalactic cruise ship called the Axiom, on earth remains one last robot that is doing what it has been programmed to do—compact garbage. He also enjoys watching old movies on his video iPod. WALL-E learns about human love through the human culture he encounters as he collects artifacts left by the former inhabitants of his world. As his curiosity develops he slowly becomes more human than the people he encounters.
WALL-E is living a lonely life on the planet with only a cockroach to keep him company—that is, until he meets EVE (an Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). EVE is a robot sent to look for any remaining biological life on earth, which will signal humanity’s return home. When EVE does eventually discover the plant that WALL-E is storing, a ship comes to return EVE to the human cruise ship. WALL-E jumps a ride and soon discovers the sorry state that humans have been reduced to by technology. It has turned them into mindless consumers, complacent and virtually immobile.
It becomes the task of WALL-E, EVE and a handful of misfit robots in the repair room to break the humans out of their slavery to technology and their resulting isolation. The captain of the ship eventually comes to realize that the autopilot has taken total control of the Axiom. As the humans come to see the self-sacrifice and love WALL-E and EVE have for each other, they begin to recognize their own sense of purpose. The humans on the ship re-learn the delights of human touch, having fun, and their responsibility to go back to a destroyed earth to be stewards of what their ancestors and their own consumption have left devastated.
The true beauty of the film is how it highlights the storied nature of what it means to be human. WALL-E and EVE are just robots doing what they are programmed to do, but by watching and coming to understand humans from the film Hello, Dolly! they are changed and come alive. By imitating humans, they serve as a medium to retell a love story for a humanity that has forgotten and lost all sense of purpose. In an ironic turn the robots that were given purpose by humans, save humans from the meaninglessness they had created for themselves by relinquishing their power to technology. WALL-E and EVE are mirrors in which the humans start to recognize and see themselves as they truly are. This love story teaches them human beings’ full potential when they are in healthy relationship to one another.
This film was originally proposed as the first major film by Pixar Animation Studios fifteen years ago, but it was shelved in favour of Toy Story. Fortunately for film viewers this summer it was not lost or forgotten. This film is a delight, and uses the film medium to its fullest potential by relying on the visual aspects—showing the story rather than using dialogue to carry the narrative along. The main characters only have a vocabulary of about five words, but the story is clearly communicated! It is a wonderful and touching film that stands as a simple reminder that humans have a responsibility to care for and renew the vast and beautiful creation with which God has graced us. How easily we can mismanage it when we forget what it means to be human. Good stories help us remember who we are and to once again learn the struggle to live life in all its fullness instead of merely surviving.